Home > Libya, Politics, Serbia > Gaddafi, Libya , and Me, Part 3

Gaddafi, Libya , and Me, Part 3

The second year was less memorable than the first. Once I was invited to an all-female party (all-female and all-male, the only two kinds of parties you had in Libya) that was taking place in one of the Libyan villas located behind our village. In the absence of men, women were going wild. Sweaty and underdressed, they were dancing the night away. Their hips were a blend of fire and physics I had never seen in such a sync before. I was amazed. I tied a scarf around my hips and gave the dancing a try. Aisha, the Libyan girl who spoke perfect Serbian and who invited me to the party, gave me a quick breakdown: you don’t move anything above your waist. The concept sounded simple until I tried, then impossible. I love to dance so I kept trying. I wanted to be one of the girls spitting fire with their hips, but it wasn’t happening. I didn’t even get close to it. I kept trying for a while, I decided not to care about doing it all wrong, which was exactly what I was doing, dancing with my entire body instead of my hips, then I just sat down and watched. Looking at the uncovered, wild women, it was difficult to believe I was in Libya, and even more, in a Libyan home.

But overall, that second year brought nothing really new. I loved what I loved, and I hated what I hated. My sentiments didn’t change. I had even fewer friends, and the Bini boy went back home at the end of the previous school year, which didn’t prevent me from writing pages and pages about him, or really about me, in my journal. I was slowly getting introduced to and dealing with the concept of “never again.” Yes, there was a remote possibility that some of the people I got to know in Libya I was going to see, under some circumstances, again, but I think I was realistic enough to know that most people, who were from all over old Yugoslavia, I was most likely never going to see again.

Today I don’t think much about that “never again” thing. I’ve been through it so many times, and I might note that this phase of life I am living now is going to end, but I am usually OK with that. Sometimes I feel like I lived at least ten lives, and all of them but the one I am living now simply ended at the point when I was not really ready for them to end, but they did, and I survived. I moved on.  And I am fine with the fact that those lives ended and I will never live them again, never in that same configuration. I assume most people go through the same thing of witnessing some of their lives end. But many years ago, when I was fourteen, I had a really hard time with this concept. Libya became my life, my friend, my companion, and I knew once I left, I was never going to come back to Libya again. Libya was totally isolated then, under strict sanctions, so it was quite clear to me that there was no going back. That really hurt. My attachments were always strong, and the skill of detaching I had yet to learn.

As the months were going by, my emotional tension was skyrocketing. I was stuck between my newly developed attachment to Libya and the upcoming choices that I had to make. I knew I was going to a grammar school (the same one my dad went to), and since I was a very good student I didn’t have  to worry about not being accepted. But I knew that Serbian school system was not flexible and that the choices I made at this point of my schooling would largely determine my professional direction. I had to choose between math and science or languages and social science.

I always loved math and was very good at it, but I was getting increasingly attached to English and, secretly, to writing. My mother thought I should stick to math as I was always very good at it. My father definitively wanted me to  stay away from medicine and the crazy work hours it demanded, and maybe even from math, which would take me to some less than ideal work spaces, something like a factory if I studied engineering (at least that how it was in the Yugoslavia of the eighties). I felt torn between the two for a while. Finally, I decided against math. I chose the direction of English. If I had never gone to Libya, I don’t think I would have.

In mid-May I was already getting ready to go back to Serbia. I had my grades and my transcripts. My diploma was going to come later. The ticket was bought. The day was set. A new school and a new life sounded exciting, but I was acutely aware of the fact that I was leaving Libya forever. I pressed flowers and leaves, and I took a lot of walks. I reminiscenced over Libya as if I were already gone. I was sad, but that sadness didn’t make sense to me. After all, I was going home.

The last few days came. I started packing my stuff. I wanted to have a good-bye party. My parents agreed. I chose my very last night in Libya for the party (not thinking much about my early-morning flight). I invited a lot of kids, big and small. I didn’t care if they were 6-7 years younger than I was, I felt they were all part of my Libya.

I remember the party was very noisy, and my parents let us kind of take over the house. It lasted late into the night, probably later than it should have. When everybody was gone, my mother suggested we should leave everything as it was and just go to bed. I looked around. The paper plates with bits of food and empty glasses were everywhere. I went into my room, which looked no different than the living room. I stacked up the dirty plates and glasses to get to whatever I needed and suddenly broke into tears. I am still not quite sure what exactly it was, most likely everything: Libya; the people I met and shared a time in my life with; my room; the view from the kitchen balcony; the sunsets; the beaches; the nights after Ghibli. I sobbed for a long time, afraid that my parents were going to hear me and that I was going to have to explain why I was crying. But they didn’t (or at least they chose not to show they heard me). They themselves went directly to bed. I eventually calmed down and fell asleep. The following morning I left Libya. That was more than twenty years ago.


When the Arab Spring protests started in the Middle East, I didn’t think they were ever going to spread to Libya. Not because people loved Gaddafi. (Back then at least once a week my mother shared with me a new story of the experience and anti-Gaddafi sentiments of some Libyan doctor she worked with.)  I thought it was impossible to have many pro-Gaddafi people in a country that was rich with oil and was supposed to be relatively well-off, but because of Gaddafi’s politics it wasn’t. I didn’t think the protests were ever going to spread to Libya because that man had been there forever. Way, way too long. It almost felt like he was made half from flesh and half from stone so he was still alive and able to repress and torture, but at the same time, he rose to permanence. He wasn’t going anywhere.

Then, things started happening in Libya. I started thinking, well, maybe, people were finally ready. Something like evolution and revolution. The rebelling forces were finally united and ready to get Gaddafi  out of his seat. I followed the events in Libya pretty regularly in the beginning. I thought of my first and maybe most important English teacher who married a Libyan doctor, despite the fact that her husband could never leave the country while Gaddafi was in power because his family “sinned” politically. My teacher had a son with this man before I left, which meant that her son was now in his twenties, at the age when he was old enough to fight. As I was listening to the news, I recognized the names of places. I was hoping that Gaddafi was going to be removed soon.

Then the international community got involved. I was not sure how I felt about that. Yes, I definitely wanted to see Gaddafi out of his seat, and I couldn’t imagine there would be many Libyans who wanted anything different, but I am always skeptical when any kind of international intervention is planned. By default. I guess much more often I’ve seen NATO and other powerful countries be led by their interests than by sheer altruism.

But, I have always thought Gaddafi was a madman so I tried not to think about the possible ulterior motives  of NATO for supporting the Libyan rebels. I tried to forget the piece of info that my husband read and shared with me a few months ago, that the US actually used the Libyan prisons to store/interrogate the suspects involved in the September, 11 attack.

A few weeks ago, I asked my husband if there was still fighting in Libya, just to make sure I didn’t miss anything in my irregular exposure to the news . Yes, he said. Then I started hearing about the pro-Gaddafi forces rising again.

All I could think about was despair. The absolute despair. It reminded me of the time when we protested against Milosevic. I didn’t actually know a single person who was for Milosevic, but I knew that didn’t mean that Milosevic didn’t have supporters. In the same way, I hardly met anyone who actually loved George Bush. My frequent thought was how could you possibly like someone who was so unintelligent and inarticulate, and at the same time the president of a country that has such a big say in the world’s politics? Pretty scary thought, but George Bush was still elected a president, even twice. So things that don’t seem to be even remotely in the realm of possibility do happen. I concluded that there were people who, for whatever reason, wanted to keep Gaddafi in his seat.

Then, at that point, I would stop thinking about the supporters and turn my attention to these rulers themselves. What does it means to have so many opponents and to be able to turn a deaf ear to all of them, to maybe hundreds of thousands of people, and still want to stay in your seat? To be Slobodan Milosevic and ignore months of student protests, the biggest university of the country and most of the country protesting against you, and to still want to stay to govern the people that don’t want you? To be George Bush, to bring a strong economy to a collapse and get the country into another war and still want to stay? And finally, to be Gaddafi, to be thrown out of your seat and to fight to get back into the same seat despite the fact that so many people don’t want you there?

And then in the midst of all that, I hear: Libya’s ex-leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi has been killed. A few times in my life I was in a similar situation when I thought it was a good thing that someone was no longer alive. Every time I strongly approved of someone’s death, I felt really strange. Like today. I had to remind myself that so many other people died because of Gaddafi and so many more would have died if he were not killed today. That this was the only way.

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